Eager to pass on his hard-won wisdom, whether anyone wants it or not, Richard (Thomas Middleditch) tells Keenan Feldspar (Haley Joel Osment) on tonight’s episode of Silicon Valley to enjoy his success while it lasts because “this can be a tough business.” Keenan, who’s such a good bullshit artist that he wins Richard over by admitting that, yes, he really is a bullshit artist, swats away Richard’s warning, and no wonder: The wheels of Silicon Valley are greased for operators like him. But in the trip-wired world of smart nerds like Richard and the rest of the Pied Piper crew, there’s rarely time to savor a victory before it blows up and knocks them back on their asses.
In the short space of “The Keenan Vortex,” Bachman (T.J. Miller) loses his Bream/Hall job just days after landing it, and the deal Richard just landed with Dan (Jake Broder) and Liz (Leisha Hailey), which was supposed to pump his company with an infusion of cash, threatens to bankrupt it instead. Pied Piper’s pied piper, “adorable little wombat” Keenan, seduces every member of the team, with his eight-figure checks and all the comforts of his multimillion-dollar man cave, convincing them for a minute or two that he can solve all their problems—and then turns out to be just another snake-oil salesman, like nearly every other big name in the valley. Once again, by the way, it’s Monica (Amanda Crew) who comes through for Richard, letting him know that “Keenan’s tech is dog shit” and promising him Round A funding for his peer-to-peer network if he breaks free of Keenan and proves he can get a network of mobile phones to do the work of a server.
At least Keenan’s unmasking explains why he attached himself to a blowhard like Bachman. Keenan played Bachman’s thirsty ego like Josh Bell plays the violin, turning Bachman into a human bargaining chip in his attempt to squeeze even more money from Bream/Hall. That ruthlessly ingenious move is typical Silicon Valley, both buoyantly absurd and creepily plausible.
The same applies to the ever-shifting and tenuous fate of Richard’s plan for a peer-to-peer Internet. Dinesh’s (Kumail Nanjiani) rant about the potential consequences of the company’s failure to pay its server fees might sound comically paranoid, unless you consider the corporate python-swallowing-elephant acts that have happened to real-life Internet behemoths like the once-mighty Yahoo, which is currently being absorbed by Verizon. The fact is, it’s entirely—and depressingly—possible that, as Dinesh warns, “the entire future of the Internet is going to belong to a fucking insurance company.”
Writers Graham Wagner and Rachele Lynn have fun with Californians’ notorious inability to cope with a simple cold snap, a concept they keep circling back to in a three-part bit with ever-escalating stakes. It starts with the mainly visual joke of Richard and his team, swathed in winter clothes, complaining of the cold inside Bachman’s house, which he’s too broke or cheap to heat. Part two raises the stakes considerably, as clients of Dan’s insurance company are driven into a tizzy by the weather, filing so many cold-weather-related claims that Richard’s company exceeds its monthly data allotment in just four days. In the capper, a shot glass brimming with ink-black humor, Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky) gets word that a truck at the production plant for the black boxes Jack is trying to crank out for Hooli slid on a patch of frost, hit the main breaker panel, and melted down the entire facility. The news builds briskly from bad to worse to horrific (“The driver was incinerated instantly”), but Jack remains stonily uninterested in the collateral damage, his attention firmly fixed on his plans for the box despite a laughably pro forma nod at condolences (“Well, thoughts and prayers, obviously”).
The aptly named Hoolicon is another flurry of satiric darts. Its rock-concert video ads, triumphal billboards, and double-entendre tagline (“We Come Together”) evoke the breathless hype with which the real Silicon Valley so often unveils its latest toys, capped by the pungent moment when a Hoolicon ad’s voiceover narrator booms, “Is this not the most exciting time to be in technology?” as the camera lingers on Richard’s eloquently grimacing face.
Lately, the show’s creators have been showcasing Middleditch’s gift for physical comedy with at least one bit per episode. His best moment in “The Keenan Vortex” sees him losing a battle with a soda can, first accidentally breaking off its pull tab before then pushing through part of the hole, resulting in the can spewing thin, fizzy streams of soda in all directions. The awkward physical eloquence of this gag is of a piece with some of the great silent-film comedies, but such physical humor is only part of what’s made Silicon Valley so brilliant this season. The show’s humor always springs organically from the personalities of and relationships between its well-rounded, believable characters. The plots are seamlessly intricate and fast-moving, seeded with sly social commentary and emotional stakes that may sometimes surprise you, sneaking in as they do behind all that humor.
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